Lawyers are working tirelessly to ensure charges are dropped against 23 students arrested outside the gates of parliament on Wednesday as part of the week-long #FeesMustFall protest. As a result of an interdict obtained by the University of Cape Town (UCT), close to 100 students were arrested in Cape Town throughout the duration of last week’s unrest. Of these, 23 students were arrested outside parliament, while a further six were apprehended after breaching the parliamentary precinct. The former are facing charges of public violence and attending an illegal gathering.
The attorney representing the 23 students, Ashraf Mohamed, whose firm is providing pro-bono assistance to the students, says that lawyers have been in discussion with the Department of Justice (DoJ) to have the charges withdrawn.
“There is a group of committed lawyers assisting these students and ensuring they do not spend a minute longer than they should in a South African police cell or prison, and that they are released unconditionally,” he said.
In regards to the six accused of breaking through the gates of parliament, they were initially set to face charges of high treason as a result of breaching a ‘national key-point’. Those charges were however dropped.
“I’m pleased to say that as a result of the intervention of the DoJ and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), some sanity prevailed and it was excluded from the charges,” he stated.
Government recognition of the concerns of students, through the dropping of a proposed fee hike, has been accompanied by shift in stance by UCT authorities towards the arrested students. The institution has written a letter to the National Director of Public Prosecutions asking for a withdrawal of all charges.
“UCT is the complainant, but it is the state that will actually have to withdraw the charges against students. UCT, as a complainant that basically called on police when they needed to enforce the interdict, are effectively saying that they no longer want to continue the role of the complainant in this particular matter.
They recognise that university campuses are meant to be safe spaces for students and staff to freely express and exchange their ideas, and that there is no place for police on campus,” he added. VOC (Mubeen Banderker)